MARSEILLE, France — Eight people remain missing after a building exploded and collapsed early Sunday morning near the port of Marseille, leaving behind a mound of debris as rescue operations began, officials said.
More than 100 firefighters worked against a ticking clock to completely extinguish the flames in the rubble of the five-story building, but more than 17 hours later “things have not yet been confirmed,” Marseille Prosecutor Dominique Laurens said at an evening news conference.
Earlier in the day, police estimated that between four and 10 people had been arrested. Lawrence said police are still confirming the apparent disappearance of a third person who lived in a nearby building. Five people suffered minor injuries from the crash, which occurred shortly before 1 am
Marseille Mayor Benoit Payan said two buildings shared walls with one partially collapsed before one later caved in, another complication in the search and rescue operation. The buildings in the middle of the building are gone.
Drones and observatories were used to examine for signs of life. The burning wreckage was too hot for dogs in firefighting teams until Sunday afternoon, although the smoke still bothered them, the prosecutor said.
“We cannot intervene in the classic way,” said Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin in the morning to visit the site. He said the fire was burning a few meters below the wreckage and that both water and foam posed a danger to the safety of the victims.
The investigation of the involuntary injury is open, at least from the beginning of the criminal intent. The gas explosion stopped between the tracks, said Lawrence, the prosecutor. but the beginning of the probe is also terminated by ardent ardor.
“The flames weren’t pink. They were blue,” Payan said.
The fighters, with the help of urban rescue experts, worked through the night and all day Sunday in a tough race against time. The delicate operation was intended to keep the crew safe, to prevent further harm from being trapped in the rubble and vulnerable buildings nearby, which had already partially collapsed. Part of the 30 buildings in the area is deserted, Darmanin said.
Lawrence, the prosecutor, said the firefighters “are really in a difficult situation that is dangerous for them.” Work is progressing but safety precautions are being taken, he said.
“We heard an explosion… a very strong explosion that made us jump, and this is it,” said Marie Ciret, who was among them. “We looked out the window where it was happening. We saw smoke, stones, and people running.”
The building that collapsed is located in a narrow street less than a kilometer (half a mile) from Marseille’s iconic old port, adding to the difficulties for firefighters and rescue workers. The prosecutor said the building and those next door “are not substandard buildings.”
Robots were reportedly developing. A crane was brought to clear the wreckage and firefighters at one point were seen on TV video parts of the wreckage from a window in a nearby room as plumes of smoke rose to the black.
“We are trying to subdue the fire while saving the lives of the victims of the events under the rubble,” Lionel Mathieu, commander of the Marseille Legion, said in a televised brief.
“Cryers put out a minute to put out the fire,” Payan, the mayor, said.
“We must have victims,” he said grimly.
The collapsed building is located in the old quarter in the center of France’s second-largest city. The commotion from the explosion echoed in other neighborhoods. Near the streets they were besieged.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne expressed their thoughts for the people affected and those fighting.
In 2018, two buildings collapsed in the center of Marseille, killing eight people. Those buildings were poorly maintained — not unlike the building that collapsed on Sunday after the explosion, the interior minister said.